If my atheist dad were still alive, this would be a good summer for him. That’s because one of his favorite landmarks—the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross—has been saved. With the transfer of the site to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association (MSMA), it is now permanently protected from demolition after 25 years of hair-raising attempts to remove it, including efforts by my father’s fellow atheists.
Our middle-class house in San Diego sat on the edge of a suburban plateau under the memorial. It was about two miles away, and our family enjoyed sitting on the back patio peering out at the distant lighted memorial at twilight. Yes, my dad was an atheist, but he loved that cross.
My dad loved the memorial cross because he was a veteran—a WWII B29 tail gunner, though the war ended before he saw action—and the cross was part of a place dedicated to veterans in a military town.
He loved it because it reminded him of sacrifice, patriotism, and nobility.
Yes, my dad was an atheist, but he loved that cross.
He loved it because it was part of the cultural and physical heritage of San Diego, which had been settled by Spanish missionaries planting crosses.
To him, taking down the cross would have been like taking down the mountain itself—a violation of community identity.
He was irritated when the first attacks on the memorial began. He died shortly thereafter, but I know he would have been shocked to witness the relentless lava flow of intolerance that flares up from well-funded special interests whenever anything with religious connections has anything to do with the government.
It’s stunning. If a simple prayer is offered before a town meeting, they darkly warn that the First Amendment is all but revoked—even though America’s founders offered hours of prayers as they wrote the Constitution.
If a veterans memorial is found to exist having a traditional religious symbol of sacrifice, secular activists sound the alarm as if the Spanish Inquisition is back in session—even though our tolerant founders allowed various kinds of religious imagery in public locations.
So the secularists started their own Inquisition. In 2010, the ACLU was at the U.S. Supreme Court trying to tear down a solemn veterans memorial cross in the Mojave Desert.
Liberty Institute recruited some of the best lawyers in the nation—working at no charge because of their love of country—to stop them.
Now Liberty Institute and its volunteer attorneys have staved off ACLU attempts to scrape the “offensive” veterans memorial cross off the face of Mount Soledad. Once again, an embattled veterans memorial with a cross will still stand.
Why, then, am I worried? Because the secular Inquisitors aren’t finished.
Right now, lawyers for the American Humanist Association are suing to tear down a historic veterans memorial in the shape of a cross in Bladensburg, Maryland, erected with funds by mothers of men who died in World War I. Good grief. It’s 90 years old. Put there by grieving moms. But no matter—the Inquisitors want it gone, so once again Liberty Institute has recruited a top law firm to defend a veterans memorial with religious imagery.
Similar groups have attacked the cross memorial at Ground Zero. Attacked a Vietnam memorial cross in the Pacific Northwest. If even one such case succeeds and sets a precedent, what happens to the Argonne Cross at Arlington Cemetery? Or Arlington’s Canadian Cross of Sacrifice? Or the phrase, “Known But to God” on the Tomb of the Unknowns? It’s all “religion” on government land. One bad precedent and they could topple like bowling pins.
Want a scary thought? The litigious Freedom From Religion Foundation has even criticized the predominance of crosses and Stars of David marking graves at the American-owned Normandy WWII Cemetery at the site of D-Day. Yes, Normandy. Do they have visions of rolling a strike over that hallowed ground?
Please don’t say, “It could never happen.”
Earlier this year, a prominent liberal legal group intimidated the city of King, North Carolina to remove a Vietnam veterans memorial because it contained religious imagery.
In the Mojave case, a federal judge had a thick, ugly bag pad-locked over the large memorial cross, and only a narrow 5-4 vote at the Supreme Court liberated it.
And twice, the Mt. Soledad Memorial was ordered taken down. Only urgent legal intervention saved it. Losing the case could have been the domino that toppled many other memorials and erased religious symbols from our public landscape.
But this summer, I’m sure my late father—the atheist, the veteran, the patriot—would be celebrating the victory keeping in place the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross. And he would be urging others to stand in the boots of those who can no longer fight by helping preserve the memorials built for their honor.
Christopher Corbett is Vice President for Strategic Communications for Liberty Institute.